By Ani Aharonian
Looking at how students study, it is obvious that people approach learning in different ways. Some students like to read the textbook once through, some highlight and annotate the textbook extensively, some write and rewrite their notes, others record and play back lectures, others still make and review flashcards, and so on… But what do these differences in study strategies reflect? There are many possibilities. They may reflect variations in the way that people learn, or it may reflect differences in work ethic or learned habits. Researchers have mistakenly interpreted these differences in preference to reflect differences in the way that people learn and learning styles has become a popular and widespread pedagogical approach.
The main claim or hypothesis associated with the learning styles approach is that matching instructional style to individual learning styles will yield superior learning. A 2012 survey of educators in the UK and Netherlands revealed that 94% believed that students perform better when they receive instruction in their preferred learning style. Aspiring educators are being taught that instruction should be tailored to the distinct learning styles of students. Management and business programs are also increasingly propagating this claim in the context of workplace.
Perhaps this idea has taken strong hold because it is an appealing one. It is consistent with our desire to perceive ourselves as individuals, it is a positive and optimistic proposition that each person has equivalent potential to learn if the instruction can be matched to their individual learning style, and it also places the responsibility for students’ achievement (or lack thereof) on the teachers and the educational system rather than the students.
What evidence is there that this approach, around for a few decades now, affects learning outcomes? Hardly any.
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